Being a parent is not an easy job, there are so many things that you feel your parents could have done better with you and you promise yourself not to make the same mistakes yourself. So even though, you do your best to avoid those particular mistakes, but what happens is, you end up making a whole new set of mistakes. Let’s face it, there are no rehearsals for life or parenting, you just get one chance and all you can do is ‘try’ your best. However, as error prone mortals no matter how hard we try, we will always have some shortfalls.
Here is a short list of mistakes that I see so many parents making, of course unaware of the profound effects it can have on the fragile minds of their young ones. This certainly, does not mean you are a ‘bad parent’, only affirms the fact, that after all you are only human. The good news is, that most of these issues, once you identify them, are fairly easy to rectify. Make a few changes, here and there keeping the following in mind, and I am pretty sure your kids might one day award you with the ‘Best Parents” title.
1. Not Hugging or Touching Your Child Often
Numerous research studies reveal that physical touch, between a child and parent has direct bearing; on the child’s self esteem. Touch, hugs and cuddles make a child feel accepted and approved of. In the journal Applied Developmental Science, Notre Dame psychologist Darcia Narvaez, notes that lack of adult attachment, resulted in children growing up to be more distressed and socially withdrawn. On the other hand, another ongoing study by the Washington University School of Medicine, under the lead researcher and psychologist Dr. Joan Luby claims that experiments have proved that increased love and affection bring about actual physical changes in a child’s brain. Children who were more nurtured had a 10% larger hippocampus, than non nurtured kids. The hippocampus is part of the brain, responsible for long-term memory and regulating emotions. Hence, unbeknownst to you, your lack of emotions towards your children affects them at a much deeper level than you can imagine. It lays down the foundation of their mental health and significantly defines how they will be dealing with stress for the rest of their lives.
2. Being Overly Protective
While love and cuddling are important to bring up a mentally healthy child, yet excess of anything is bad. When you are overly protective, that your child might not fall, get hurt or fearful whether they will fare well in their examination or not, ‘you’ become an anxious person and believe it or not your child will take the cue from you, no matter how young they are. They will translate your anxiety into “a sense that the world is ‘dangerous’, it will reinforce avoidance, and limit their opportunities to develop skills and confidence in managing potential challenges” (source: The Parental Overprotection Scale: Associations with child and parental anxiety).
As Foster Cline and Jim Fay very aptly coined the term “helicopter parent” (in their book Parenting with Love and Logic), who hover around their kids, pick them up before they even fall; do their homework, make the big life decisions for them like choosing a major in college; make sandwiches for them to take to office. Although all of this is in goodwill, but its damaging to the child who will never learn to be independent, never work hard enough to overcome obstacles, will always give up easily because they have been taught, that there is no hard way and if there is ‘mommy will make it easier for you.’ Such kids will always have trouble adjusting in schools, at work place, they will always be overly anxious because let’s face it, Mom and Dad are not going to be present all the time. So challenge your child, let them solve the difficult puzzle on their own, encourage them to climb the awkward tree, give them odd jobs, let them learn. Teach them to ‘live’ not just ‘exist’, to ‘fight’ and not just ‘survive’. That way you will be doing yourself and your child both a favor.
3. Setting the Bar too High for them
It’s natural to expect the best out of your kids, especially when it comes to academics. Children often work harder and do better in their studies, if their parents keep high expectations from them. However, a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, under the lead author Kou Murayama, PhD, ( of the University of Reading); states that “excessive parental aspiration can be poisonous,”
Though you may aim for your child to excel, but truth be told every child cannot be a distinction holder. As Amy Chua in her 2011 book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” recounts that she banned her children from computer games, sleepovers, T.V etc only to concentrate on school and piano, such type of tough love cannot work with every child. Researchers at University of California, Berkeley found that such kids, “tend to develop more aggression, depression, anxiety, and social problems and have poorer social skills”.
And it’s not just studies, it goes for any skill, manners or virtue that you are trying to teach a child, put too much stress and they will be put off. They will retaliate by avoiding, escaping and becoming irritable.
So it’s good to be honest and realistic to yourself, about your child’s capability. Expecting a mediocre child to make it to Grammar school, Eton or the Ivy Leagues is simply unreasonable and would probably result in them not making the effort that they easily could have. Whereas, some of the more sensitive children might just collapse under pressure, fall ill more frequently, become isolated or depressed.
4. Providing them with Instant Gratification
You might think you are the epitome of ideal parenthood, for providing your kids with what they want and when they want but actually you might not be doing as much, good as you may think. When you instantly gratify your kids, you are promoting a sense of ‘entitlement’ in them, what they are taking out from it is, that all they need to do is just ‘ask’, they don’t need to work hard. As a result, they will become lazier and de-motivated and demonstrate extreme impatience when their demands are not met.
A very popular study, I would like to quote here is “The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment”, of the 1960-70’s, where children were given a choice to have 1 marshmallow immediately or 2 marshmallows (placed on a table in front of them) after 15 minutes. While majority, wanted to have the 2 marshmallows but gave in to temptation, only 30% of the children were successful in delaying gratification. Years later, a follow up study found that those who were able to practice more self control did better in most aspects of life, were better in studies, did well at work, had healthier friendships and relationships. On the contrary those, who showed lack of self-restraint; had more incidents of substance abuse, health disorders, conduct problems and financial issues.
Therefore, delaying gratification and building self control in your kid goes a long way. Giving into their whims is very tempting too, especially when you can afford, and sometimes to just get them off your back but it’s more like choosing a momentary happiness for them at the cost of a much more permanent one.
5. Judging and Comparing Them
It’s natural to compare your child with their siblings or with other kids; but those comparisons are better kept to yourselves for more reasons than one. Besides, it stressing a child out, eventually he/she starts to believe that maybe they are inferior than others, thus affecting their self-esteem negatively. When compared to others, the sense of ‘not being good enough’ begins to sink in. Some children will just quit trying or gradually become isolated from their parents, to avoid repeatedly disappointing them. A damaged self worth will adversely affect their socializing skills too, as they will become too shy to reveal their ‘good for nothing’ selves to others.When comparisons are made its natural for a child to develop resentment towards the person, they are being compared to; it can be especially tricky in situations where the ‘other person’ is a sibling, it could mean promoting a life-long hostility and jeopardizing what should have been a beautiful, loving relationship.
While the effects of comparing can be catastrophic, ‘judging’ is no better. Assistant professor of human development at Brigham Young University Alexander C. Jensen, and Susan M. McHale, professor of human development at Pennsylvania State University conducted a research on how parents rated their children being different from each other, intelligence wise and academically. Results showed that in a lot of cases, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy and the children actually performed, according to what their parents had judged. Although, in cases where the kid outperformed their siblings, contrary to the parent’s judgment, the study showed that parents, ‘remained stable in their views’. A child, who has worked hard and proved themselves, feels discouraged, misunderstood and subject to unfairness, when the parents demonstrate rigidity in their views.
You may not be vocal about the distinction but children become aware, if it exists. And if the biased behavior is explicit, it could lead to the ‘black sheep’ phenomenon, where the child ‘less’ rated, mentally isolates themselves and forms a barrier of ‘them’ and ‘me’, turning into a permanent case of self-loathing and self pity for being the odd one out.
6. Allowing them Unlimited Access to New Technology
As technology is becoming more common, you can even see two year olds glued to Smartphones, watching the likes of BabyTV unsupervised. According to, Swedish oncologist, Lennart Hardell, MD., if kids and teenagers are exposed to mobile phones below the age of 20, they become 5 times more susceptible to develop a form of brain cancer (glioma) and the risk increases, depending on their age, hours of usage and intensity of the power.
Leaving aside, the physical damage they can cause, as someone rightly put it, allowing your child unlimited access to video games, smartphones, social media and all that goes with them; is like opening a cabinet full of Liquor and inviting them to it. They are ‘kids’, allow them unmonitored access, and their fragile minds won’t know how to deal with it.
Studies confirm that ‘likes’ on social media, and every time you win a game on playstation releases ‘dopamine’ the ‘pleasure chemical’ from your brain. This makes them highly addictive. Addiction of any kind and at any age affects your relationships, your performance at school/work, it’s not easy to break free because you need ‘that feeling’, of pleasure it gives. Now, expose a delicate, raw, immature mind to that addiction and what do you expect??!! Of course, they won’t do well in studies, won’t listen to you when you are screaming on top of your lungs, won’t make an effort to make friends because they already have a friend!! Besides, addiction the possibility of pedophiles, cyber bullying, inappropriate content that can be viewed by them are, all detrimental to the mental health of a child.
I am certainly not against, techie gadgets and all the promises that new technology brings, but make sure to time your child, limit their usage, always keep an eye on the sites they’re surfing, give them freedom but enough so they can breathe; not as much as they may fail to handle.